“This is huge, huge for us and huge for him,” claimed one of the many Norwegian football commentators who were hailing the appointment on Thursday of Ole Gunnar Solskjær as Manchester United’s new full-time manager. They all agreed that Solskjær fully deserves one of the most visible football jobs in the world, while his homeland was basking in the glory of it all.
“The results he’s delivered are absolutely formidable,” noted TV2 commentator Øyvind Alsaker. NRK’s legendary sports commentator Arne Scheie also pointed to how Solskjær has managed to lead Manchester United to 14 victories in the 19 matches since he took over as caretaker manager just before Christmas.
NRK commentators noted how Solskjær also has taken the players and fans by storm. “My boys love him,” confirmed one longtime Manchester United fan now living in London to newsinenglish.no in January. “He’s absolutely fantastic.”
That’s the word Solskjær himself used in comments published on Manchester United’s own website. “The last few months have been a fantastic experience,” said the mild-mannered young man from Kristiansund who typically went on to thank “all the coaches, players and staff for the work we’ve done so far.” Solskjær emphasizes teamwork, not that of just any one person like himself.
He made no effort to mask his own excitement at winning “the job that I always dreamed of doing,” not least for Manchester United’s “amazing” fans. “From the first day I arrived, I felt at home at this special club,” Solskjær stated. “It was an honour to be a Manchester United player, and then to start my coaching career here.”
Manchester United officials noted that Solskjær scored 126 goals in 366 appearances as a player for the club between 1996 and 2007. He and Manchester United’s legendary head coach Sir Alex Ferguson got along well and still do, with Ferguson coming out of retirement to continue as a mentor for Solskjær. After managing the club’s reserve team until the end of 2010, Solskjær had some ups and downs at clubs from Cardiff to Molde in his home region in Norway.
Happy at home, then came the call:
He led Molde, though, to Norwegian top league and cup victories and was happy both at the club and to be living back home in the Møre og Romsdal region of Norway, with all its mountains and scenic coastlines. He told newspaper Aftenposten that he was standing in his kitchen in Kristiansund, enjoying some time off during the week before Christmas, when a text message clicked in on his mobile phone that changed everything. He’d followed the news that José Mourinho had been fired as Manchester United, and the text message from a phone number that wasn’t in his contacts list came from the club’s top leadership.
“It’s a special moment when you understand that they maybe want to have you as leader,” Solskjær told Aftenposten. “We (he and his wife Silje Lyngvær) had to discuss this quite thoroughly, out of consideration for the family, whether we were prepared to move the whole gang, og whether only I would go.”
His three children were at school on that Tuesday afternoon just before the Christmas holidays were about to begin, and the first person he spoke with was Silje. Returning to Manchester United, a club that had meant more to him than any other, was an enormous opportunity. At the same time, it would affect the entire family. They had moved with him when he was hired by Cardiff, only to have to move home again when he was fired after just a short spell.
Their discussion didn’t last long: “This is a job you can’t turn down. I had to think myself whether I was ready to do this job for the club, because it’s a lot of responsibility, but I wasn’t afraid of that.” Two days later he was back in Manchester. He told Aftenposten that he met the players, told them what he thinks Manchester United means to them all, and that he’d kose seg (enjoy time) with them until June (when his period as caretaker was due to end) “and do what I can so that you’ll also enjoy yourselves.” Then he’d return to Molde.
‘The right person to take Manchester United forward’
Now he’s secured a three-year contract as Manchester United’s full-time manager. “Since coming in as caretaker manager in December, the results Ole has delivered speak for themselves,” stated the club’s executive vice chairman Ed Woodward. “More than just performances and results, Ole brings a wealth of experience … coupled with a desire to give young players their chance and a deep understanding of the culture of the club.” Woodward called Solskjær “the right person to take Manchester United forward.”
The decision topped the news in Norway, where fans and football experts seemed as thrilled as Solskjær. “This is great news, mostly for Ole Gunnar, but very cool for Norwegian football also,” Henning Berg, who also played for Manchester United with Solskjær and now coaches Norwegian teams, told NRK. “This is clearly the biggest and best job any Norwegian has ever had in the football world.”
Manchester United’s players were happy too, sending messages of congratulations and telling British media just how happy they were. NRK’s football commentator thinks having Solskjær as head coach of such a high-profile club like Manchester United will also “help put Norwegian football on the map.”
One thing is clear: airlines have already boosted the number of flights between Norway and Manchester because of all the Norwegian fans wanting to experience matches with Solskjær in control. As of April 1, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) will be running 10 flights a week, up from seven, in its summer program. Eight will fly from Oslo and two from Bergen, to meet demand that jumped after Solskjær took over in December.